“We want to be prepared just like we're asking you to be prepared,” Alachua County Emergency Manager Hal Grieb said. “We're scheduling meetings like today’s and we're keeping the best interest of our community at the forefront of everything that we do.” (Mary Katherine Delegal/WUFT News)

Alachua County Officials Monitor Need To Activate Full Emergency Response After First Coronavirus Case

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Alachua County Emergency Management confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Alachua County and an unspecified amount of pending tests, but are still monitoring the need to activate full emergency services, county officials said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Florida Department of Health in Alachua County Director Paul Myers would not share the specific number of tests, but confirmed that there are multiple pending tests.

The Florida Department of Health has confirmed 23 cases, two deaths and 147 pending tests in the state as of Wednesday afternoon. The COVID-19 Florida cases are a fraction of the global pandemic of more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and more than 4,000 deaths.

“I don’t want to get into the number of tests that are pending in Alachua County,” Myers said. “I can tell you that I do have tests that are pending. I can tell you that I do have scores of negative tests that have been completed, and only one has come back positive.”

Alachua County’s confirmed case is a 68-year-old Georgia resident. Myers said she arrived in the county within the past week and is still isolated here, with UF Health Shands on Wednesday afternoon confirming a Georgia resident who had tested positive was at its hospital.

The University of Florida will move all class instruction online by Monday and students are encouraged to return home until March 30, but the university will remain operational, UF President Kent Fuchs wrote to all faculty, staff and students in an email.

Alachua County Emergency Manager Hal Grieb said the county is currently in a Level 3 “monitoring” status and is in constant contact with its local, state and federal partners. The Centers for Disease Control on Wednesday announced Florida will receive $27.3 million in COVID-19 response funding, or about 5% of the national $560 million package.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Level 3 is monitoring for activation. “Notification will be made to those state agencies and Emergency Support Functions who would need to take action as part of their everyday responsibilities. The State emergency operation Center will be staffed with State Warning Point Communicators and Division of Emergency Management staff.”

“We’re scheduling meetings like today’s and we’re keeping the best interest of our community at the forefront of everything that we do,” Grieb said.

Myers said there are “plenty” of COVID-19 tests in the county and people questioning if they should get tested should contact the Alachua County Health Department.

“Nobody in Alachua County who has met the criteria for testing over the last month has been denied a test,” Myers said.

Myers said the criteria includes those who have been hospitalized with respiratory illness of unknown etiology; have been in contact with a confirmed case; have traveled to one of the CDC level three advisory countries and are symptomatic; have a chronic illness and are over the age of 65; or have chronic illness and are suffering from a respiratory illness.

Although COVID-19 has already crossed into Alachua County, the county is being proactive to stop the spread of the virus and supply citizens with necessary information.

Myers suggested covering coughs, washing hands and distancing oneself in social settings.

“In terms of mitigation and containment, these are all very important considerations to buy us time,” Myers said. “We have to buy time in order for a vaccine to be developed. Once the vaccine is developed, Alachua County is second to none in this state in terms of doing mass vaccination clinics.”

Alachua County Commission Chair Robert Hutchinson projected a sort of rallying cry to Alachua County residents to come together and help one another.

“There are going to be people who need help with daycare or with shopping or perhaps with any other chores that come with emergencies like this, and our citizens will step up when necessary,” Hutchinson said.

About Mary Katherine Delegal

Mary is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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